Cameraman based in Edinburgh, employed by ITN, working for ITV's Good Morning Britain covering stories all over the UK and the world. War Zones, World Cups, Royal Tours and many other less exciting assignments, like interviewing current and ex Prime Ministers have kept me busy over the years working in Breakfast Television since GMTV came on the scene back in '93 and regional TV before that. In 2009 I began to record what it is like to work, the often strange and long hours needed to bring the hard news, human interest and fluffy fun to the UK's TV screens in the morning, mostly broadcasting live.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

GMTV then SKY

Thursday 30th May 


The day of the big event. The press had gathered here in Basra over the last week to report on, and broadcast about The Transfer of Authority in southern Iraq from the British to the Americans. There was going to be a Remembrance Service and a TOA Ceremony.


As usual I has not had quite enough sleep when I had to get up in the dark and fumble around with a torch getting dressed and getting my kit together as quietly as possible so as not to wake anyone else in the big tent.


Our location this morning was only a few hundred yards from our tent. The army had kindly brought up a huge armoured vehicle called a Bulldog and placed it in front of some impressively large murals on concrete blast walls. One of the murals was instantly recognisable as a Union Jack Flag with the only slightly less recognisable symbol of the famous Desert Rats, a rat, in the centre. The other one was a silver, what looked like the fist of a knight of old on a dark blue background. Seemingly, last night after News at Ten, where the Desert Rat symbol had been used as a background for Mark Austin’s piece to camera. A delegation of high ranking officers came to complain about that beng used in preference to the fist affair.


In the morning Richard and I wanted to get the Desert Rat with the Union Jack on camera because they were the guys that looked after us very well in 2003 when we accompanied the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and Irish Guards into Basra. It would be our personal tribute them. Also the bizarre fist emblem looked more like something that had been brought as a trophy from a wall somewhere in deepest Northern Ireland. Not to mention that it would not mean anything to anyone outside the military. We received no complaints. That either means they did not mind or that nobody was watching.


The computer satellite system worked pretty well this morning after the disasters of the yesterday. The problem we had this morning was that the mobiles would not get through. I could make a call. I could dial the number. It would be answered. I would hear the voice perfectly but they obviously were unable to hear me. There would be a few seconds of me saying “Can you hear me.” At the other end I would just hear, “Hello. Hello.”

Then an aside, “I think that might be Basra on the phone.” Then the phone would be put down.

It became very frustrating but we did manage to get all our broadcasts done.


After out eight o’clock piece we sat around under as much shade as we could find. It was by that time in the day climbing to the high 30 degrees C. At a few moments to nine we got connected to GMTV. As we started to prepare to do a live broadcast. Richard was putting a mic on and I was checking communications with London. Doug the Technical Director came on the talkback to say the were not scheduled in that part of the programme. We were not happy bunnies at being kept out in the sun for no reason. So hot and a bit sweaty we trudged back to our tent.


I had been asked by Paul the ITN Editor on site if I would mind helping out at the TOA Ceremony by doing the Sky Presentation camera. I was happy to oblige.


I just had enough time to grab a quick shower before I got my kit together and headed to the HQ area. The sun was beating down with the temperature into the forties. There had been a few victims to heat related problems during and before the Remembrance Service. 


Phil, the Sky cameraman had been roped into doing one of the BBC cameras for the coverage of the ceremony. I would be doing their presentation camera with the reporter Geoff Meade. The assembly of dignitaries from Britain, The USA, Iraq and a couple of other countries were taking their seats when climbed up onto the little camera platform. There wasn’t much for me to do really. I would just have to stand there and make sure the camera was framed properly for the pieces to camera. A nice easy job. It almost became a tiny bit more interesting as we approached the start of the ceremony. Over the talkback from the Sky Gallery a voice said that the feed from the BBC had frozen and the only pictures that were coming out of Iraq at that moment were Sky’s. So instead of three camera coverage with all three in the optimum positions for the various parts of the ceremony being manned by three cameramen who knew what was going to happen because they had been at the rehearsal, there was about to be one camera coverage from a camera way off to the one side manned by a cameraman who had no idea what was going to happen because there had been no need for him(me) to be at the rehearsal. I thought, “This could be fun.” as I waited to do see how events unfolded.


A few moments later Geoff was cued from the studio to start commentating on the ceremony so we realised that the BBC coverage was back and working correctly.


Geoff sat below me in a slightly crumpled shirt, a blue tie that could have been a military one and a light careworn jacket. To top off the slightly eccentric appearance he had on a floppy white sun which shaded his face reddened by the hot Iraqi sun.




Geoff keeping his vocal cords hydrated in the heat.


His measured tones told the story of the ceremony as viewers saw the BBC pictures. Towards the end I was expecting him to pop up in front of my camera but he never did. So, I went from thinking the job would be dead easy, to thinking it would be quite challenging, to doing nothing at all except stand out in the baking heat for 45 minutes watching a load of military senior officers, mainly from America verbally slap each other on the back. 


Richard and I had a long wader to another of the canteen buildings to indulge in a very nice stir fry like one we had last night. It was quite a walk from our tent. There was no problem with our passes this time those frustrations were long gone, but we were not allowed into the dinning hall under any circumstances. All the pleading and polite requests to eat fell on deaf ears. At no time was the guard in any way discourtious but he was very firm. No entry meant no entry. At least until we changed out of our flip flops and put on proper footwear. 


We trudged back to the tent and chnged into more appropriate boots. I had hoped not to have to put my feet back into the sweaty, smelly boots that by now might just be able to make the journey to the DFAC on their own, but I had to.


By the time we got back correctly dressed we had worked up a bit of an appetite, not to mention a sweat. The talk all the way along the dusty road was of the combination of ingredients and spices that made the perfect stir fry. Like a pair of excited school boys on their first trip to a brothel, sorry sweet shop we scampered to the corner of the vast building where the stir fry counter was. We were then like little boys on Christmas morning when the much asked for Play Station turned out to be an educational game about  the history of medieval Itaian paintings. The place was shut. With not much enthusiasm we chose other meals. They were ok, but, a little while later I had to spend some time in a smaller facility!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Frustration with Technology and no Sleep.


Wednesday 29th April


By the time the edit was finished and the piece sent over to GMTV in London there was little opportunity for sleep. I climbed into my sleeping bag, setting my alarm for just two hours later. 


When it went off I reluctantly heaved myself out of the bag and pulled on my rather dirty, ripped trousers, courtesy of crawling around last night in the somewhat unhygienic gutters of Basra’s old town. I woke Richard. He, bleary eyed shuffled off to have quick shower to make himself almost presentable for the British public. Paul our Media Ops Major arrived with a vehicle to take us to the live location. He had heard briefly about last night and was keen to know the details. As we drove the short distance to the live spot via the DEFAC to grab a quick take away breakfast we filled him in.


The location we had chosen was a part of the base that looked as little like a military base as possible because our story for this morning was about Basra itself. So we were beside a Basra road sign with non-military buildings in the background.


Between us we rigged our little live set up. Unlike the BBC, Sky and ITN we did not have the budget to use a large satellite dish to send high quality broadcast pictures back to the UK. That costs a fair amount of dosh, needs lots of heavy kit and more people to assemble and operate it. Our set up is much easier, in theory, to put together and use. Therefore it is, again in theory much cheaper. However, both systems rely on satellites and time on them regardless of the equipment can be expensive.


The shot was set and the sound was working on the camera. All we needed to do now was dial into GMTV via the satellite. It took a few attempts to get through. When we did establish contact the sound that should have been coming back to us over the satellite link from GMTV was not there. I called Doug the Technical Director in the Gallery in London. The problem was at the technical end in GMTV. He was trying to chase it. The problem could not be sorted in time for our first broadcast. Instead of Richard linking in to out filmed piece about last night’s action it was done from the studio. At least the video tape went which was the important thing.




Operating the camera, monitoring the sound and getting the cue from the studio


Our set up is cheaper if we don’t spend too long on the satellite. As we had to remain up for longer than just the transmission time to try to find the fault the costs were racking up. At the end of the morning we were no further forwards. Richard was really tired after, like me only a couple of hours sleep. I was also starting to float into a sleep deprived semi trance. 


Added to the problems with the satellite communications was mobile phone communications. The mobile phone signal is to say the least not the most reliable. The only way that we managed to get a couple of our lives done when we eventually got through to London was for me to listen to the Technical Director in London and give Richard his cue.


Just to throw another trial to add to the morning’s list there were a few threatening bits of rain. So we had to keep the computer that runs the system in the dry in a car.


When our transmissions were finished I hoped to get some sleep but that did not happen for quite a while. I had to go and retrieve the tape I had shot last night from the BBC over on the other side of the camp.


Then the news came that our flights back to the UK had been put back by at least 24hrs. I then spent most of the rest dealing with getting a commercial flight home for both Richard and me on the day we want to be going home.

Busy Day When the Bullets Fly!

Tuesday 28th April 



video

Our Interesting Night.



I had just, or at least it felt as if I had just fallen asleep when the door of our tent clattered open and there was a great babble of noise. Another contingent of my press colleagues had arrived. I felt somewhat grumpy with them as they chatted about where they were going to sleep etc’. I felt sure that I would not have made quite as much noise. My sense of humour did return briefly when I heard what I took to be an Irish accent above all the hubbub “I forgot to bring my sleeping bag!”

That was the last I heard until my alarm went off. I was then surprised at how quiet the guys had actually been, given that the bed spaces around me that had been empty were now filled. 


Our task for this morning was to get some footage of the last Lynx helicopters to fly over Iraq being made ready to go back to Germany. I filmed the engineers take off rotors. The pilots and other engineers together washed the aircraft down with scrubbing brushes and cloths paying attention to every little detail.


We were just about to do some filming with a pilot, Paul Tedman. He had landed one of the first Lynx helicopters here in Basra back in 2003 and flew the last Lynx mission from here just yesterday. Then a couple of chaps turned up to say good-bye to the Lynx crews. They were Iraqi airforce officers There was much shaking of hands and dishing out of biscuits and juice they had brought over as parting gifts and a token of thanks for what the British army had done. It made great shots.


There was time for a quick bite of lunch the DEFAC. We were having no problem getting in now because the guards had been briefed about the press cards. If any one was going to have no trouble it would be me because the security guard boss had taken a photograph of my card to use as the example when briefing his guys.


The original plan for our afternoon was a little trip into Basra City but that fell through. We were very disappointed because having been the first in when the city was “liberated” and having gone there in 2004 in a hire car from Kuwait and seen the real Basra. We were very keen to see the transformation that the Army Officers were banging on about. Instead the facility offered was the dog unit.

The RAF Dog Section were very excited at getting on TV. I filmed a couple of sequences. An attack dog brought down one of the handlers in a big thick protective suite and a sniffer dog managed to find a tiny bit of explosive hidden in a large piece of land. It would make a nice piece but was no substitute for a City tour. We had been told that we might be going in to town in the evening but we were not too confident.


Later in the afternoon it was confirmed that we would get into town after all. 


Just after the sun had set we were onboard a Merlin helicopter zipping across the flat dark Iraqi landscape heading for The Shat al Arab hotel which is a base for the  coalition forces. I sat on one of the back seats so that I could get a good shot of the guy manning the rear machine gun silhouetted in the lights of the outskirts of the city and the flares from the oil fields. 


The Shat al Arab Hotel is quite an interesting building. In the 1920s and the age of the seaplane the aircraft would land in Basra for the passengers to break their journey before heading on the nest leg. To make the whole process easier the Control Tower was built in to the hotel.




The Shat al Arab hotel with it's integral control tower


The Iraqi army were our guides and escorts with members of the British army there with a watching brief. In the dark streets outside the base we mounted up in the Iraqi Humvees. Our convoy set out for a new shopping mall for us to film Iraqis going about their day to day lives. I filmed out of the open window of the armoured car as we cruised through the city. The street were bright and busy. It looked very rundown and the roads were in a pretty bad state underlined by the not infrequent bump and jolt. 




Our Humvee Convoy


The Tented Souk, the brightly lit mall was the first stop. It was busy but not bustling. The locals were very welcoming. I filmed men woman and children walking, browsing and buying from the various colourful stalls and shops. The smells coming from the incense shop was powerful and exotic. The clothes, particularly the women’s were equally exotic. Richard spoke to a few locals who spoke either in very bad English or through the interpreter that was with us. Most were very happy that the British army were leaving. A few were not happy that the infrastructure and the job situation was not better.




Ladies we talked to in the Tented Souk. Sadly they didn't make the final edit.


Back in the cosy comfort of the Humvee we wended our way through to an old part of the city near to a place we had visited way back in 2004. There were many men, no women this time I noticed, were buying kebabs and various fruit drinks. The atmosphere was very good, lots of smiles and laughs. We were cheerfully invited to sample fruit and drinks. A kebab seller did little tricks flicking the fillings into the pitta bread. Richard was just in the throws of being given a very small cup of no doubt very  sweet tea when things changed in the most dramatic way possible.




Richard and Me Enjoying Basrawi Hospitality Moments Before The Fun and Games.


The unmistakable crack of gunfire rang out, echoing round the streets. Everyone around us ran for cover. Richard hit the deck. I got down low enough still to be able to use the camera. As I was going down I saw a couple of the Iraqi soldiers running down the street. The British soldiers took up defensive firing positions. Richard did a short piece to camera lying on the ground simply saying that we did not know what was going on. A few seconds later the locals started to stand  up acting as if it was pretty much an everyday occurrence, maybe it is. They didn’t stay up for long because another few shots pierced the now quiet night. Dougie, the British soldier that had been in our wagon called to check that we were OK. The locals began to rapidly drift away into the darkness as a few more shots cracked around us. All the time the camera was running and I was trying to get shots to make some sort of sense of the confusion. Dougie motioned for us to take cover beside a building which we did nice and quickly, camera still running. Richard then did another piece to camera pointing out that the British soldiers were letting the Iraqi army deal with whatever the situation was. Our objective was then to get back to the safety of out heavily armoured vehicles. Dougie pointed to the one we needed to head for and with a warning we did not need, to keep low, we ran to the vehicle. As we ran another shot resounded around us.


There was no driver in the wagon as we climbed in. There was still a great deal of rushing around going on outside. The situation was still very confused. A young British soldier squeezed in beside Richard. We sat for what felt like ages in the driverless box feeling somehow more vulnerable than when we were outside. The driver jumped in. He was very excited and jabbered very loudly on the radio and waved his hands around. We sped away from the area. The whole time the driver was yelling on the radio and at the guy in the gun turret. I was directly behind him and saw him make a cutting motion across his neck with his hand. It was very obvious that he wanted to get to wherever we were going as fast as he possibly could. The convoy system broke down a few times as our man threw the big brute of a vehicle on to the other side of the road, playing a pretty scary game of chicken with oncoming traffic as he overtook the humvees that were in front of us. I did not believe that such large and heavy vehicles could go nearly as fast as we were as we cannoned along the road. I was getting some great shots of that would be very welcome on Police Camera Action. There was just one Humvee we had not gone past. With that in the lead we sped through some gates that turned out to be the entrance of a hospital.


The crew from the leading vehicle quickly jumped out. They ran to the back an threw open the boot to reveal a man in a bit of a bad way. He was unceremoniously dragged out and thrown on to a hospital trolley. I switched the camera on. I went to get out the Humvee but was slowed down by the seat belt that I had put on and now half hanging out the door needed to take off. I got to the trolley which the soldiers were pushing as they were about to push it into the A&E doors. Our driver suddenly appeared and tried to get a hold of the guy on the trolley. The other soldiers held him back and pushing him away. A minor and quick scuffle took place before our boy calmed down and then went into the hospital. 


A little while later he appeared with a dressing on his neck. It turned out that the guy on the trolley had tried to cut the soldier’s throat back at the market and that was what had kicked the whole thing off. Our driver had then pushed the attacker away and then shot him.


We spent a bit of time outside the hospital whilst the story unfolded before being driven back to our base at the International Airport.




The hospital as things started to calm down.


Back at the camp the guys from ITN and the BBC had heard that there had been an incident and were very keen to see the footage. There were another couple of newspaper journalists in other Humvees on the trip to town. They were also keen to see what I had shot. I was both nervous and excited as I rewound the tape ready to play it into the computer to edit with. Did I manage to get all the sound of the gunfire? Was I running when Richard did his pieces to camera? Will the shots look as dramatic as the situation was? All these thoughts were going through my mind as the pictures played. 




ITN, The Mail, The Independent and The Sun study the rushes.


As the rushes played and the story unfolded everyone to a man and woman said I had done a good job. Julian Manion was particularly complimentary along with Paul the Editor from ITN. I felt we had done a good days work. That day wasn’t finished yet. The piece still had to be edited and fed to London. 


In a fairly short time Richard had cut the package and it looked good. I was pleased. I called home to let my family know that there would be dramatic pictures on GMTV tomorrow but not to worry because I was alright, but going to get no sleep until we come off air tomorrow morning. 


Monday, 27 April 2009

Technology. Don't You Just Love It?

Monday 27th April


That’s not supposed to happen over here, dark grey skies and and a spot or two of rain. There was even a little cold breeze. That was a real shame because there was not a lot of filming that we would be able to do today. It would have been our only chance to relax and catch some relaxed sun rather than being all hot and sweaty in the body armour. The sun did not take that long to come through and we were able to do some work.


The wobbly voiced Julian Mannion flew in from Jordan to Basra International to join his ITN crew colleagues.


Richard and I went out to do some filming with some of the chaps from 5 Rifles who have done quite a few tours over here. Since 2003 have spent around two years of their lives in sunny Iraq. I filmed them checking their kit before they go home for what will be their final good bye to Basra.


The rest of the evening was fraught with one or two frustrations, not just for us. As we started the editing process Richard and I needed to get something to eat. We went of the the DEFAC to have a well earned meal to find that we could not get in. This time it was nothing to do with our passes or ID but literally as we walked up to the door it shut. All our charm and pleading with the guard had no effect. He had his orders and they were that the place closed at that time and not a moment later. He was polite but very firm. he did say the the other DEFAC a little walk away would be open. We headed on that direction and had our ID checked a few times again to reach and get into this DEFAC. I spotted a sign that read “Stir Fry”, as I was washing my hands.

“Great.” I thought, “I really fancy that.”

To my great disappointment we discovered only too quickly that although we had managed to get in all the food had been put away. The catering staff sitting down to eat should have been a clue.


Just over the dusty road there is a place to eat in the commercial area of the came in the new J1 village. The food is not cheap. The menu is not vast. The furniture is plastic patio stuff. However, what they do have is well cooked and certainly tasty. At least we did not go hungry as we feared we might.


Whilst we were having our personal little drama over food, the ITN chaps were wrestling with a major problem with their satellite dish. It would not work. Calls were made to the manufacturers. Internet traffic busied up as files to try and rectify the problem were transferred. Some one in London was rushing with boxes of spare parts to get a flight out to get the problem put right so that material could be fed back to London and live broadcasts could take place.


Fully satisfied  with our meal the edit was finished off and we tried to send our story back to GMTV via our little satellite set up. The frustration that ITN were feeling was soon match by ours. Every time we tried to send the story it failed. The other small problem we had was that the mobile phone network hardly works at all. Texts sometimes come through but can not be sent. If a call connects the person at the other end just hears buzzing and sizzling. The only sure way to communicate is over a satellite. No problem, we have a satellite phone, but it won’t work either. So, we would need to use the satellite we were trying to sent the story on as a phone, but you can’t so both things at the same time. The way we solved that problem was to transfer a load of communications software on to my personal computer I had brought with me. That would be used as the phone link. We would try sending the material on the GMTV computer. 


After a few conversations with the technical area in London to make sure that things were ok at that end we tried again. We were about to give up and try another way when at last the screen told us that the material was on it’s way.


Richard looked at his mobile phone to see that there was a full signal. Quickly he dialled the office and got straight through. 


When things all started to go wrong we thought that we would have another of those frustrating late nights, but at a little after midnight we were all finished with the prospect of some reasonable sleep ahead.

Briefings and Shopping.


Saturday 26th April


I had such a good nights sleep in my cubby hole I missed breakfast. I had to do a bit of a quick dash to the shower block to wash before we had a few briefings.


Once again we boarded a bus to take us to the HQ building beside what is now Basra International Civil airport. Three officers gave us lengthy briefings on the safety and drills on the base, or COB as it is known, the things we would be able to film and a Contextual Brief. This was the most interesting. It let us know the way the various arms of the military were working with the various parts of the Iraqi government. There were lots of acronyms like Mips and Pips and IA and IP and all sorts of gobbledygook, but even without the aid of a military glossary we got the impression things were going well. The Iraqis are now creating a Basra that will be reminiscent of the grand proud city it was before Saddam deliberately ran it down to a third world slum.




The Briefing Room


Richard and I then went for a quick walk in the heat of the day sweating like one of Mike Tyson’s girlfriends when he’s feeling frisky but had a bad day. We needed to get one or two things that might be available at the PX which is the American version of what used to be the NAFFI. At the door a couple of security guards were checking everyone’s ID as they went in. Our British Press Cards were something of a curiosity and after much scrutiny and a request for further ID we were allowed in to the hallowed emporium of things Iraqi and American. One of the “must haves” from what the Brit squadies  call the “Jingly” shop is a very garish plastic alarm clock that comes in colours from bright Barbie pink to full sea sick green. The alarm is the Muslim call to prayer and is one of the loudest scariest sounds I have ever heard. I got one on my last trip almost a year ago. The alarm is so alarming I have only used it once. However, it is a great conversation piece in Thunderbird uniform blue and plastic gold. There were many other  things almost, but not quite as brash. Glass ornaments inlaid with colourful portraits of Saddam Hussien are proudly displayed not far from glittery belly dancing costumes with many dangling tassels.




The PX.


The only things we bought were a couple of techie things, thin boxes to store kit and pillows to try and make life a little bit more comfortable on the hard foam matresses that are at least a step up from the travel cots I have slept on before.


In the afternoon there were long discussions about what we would be able to film and the logistics around doing it. 


At dinner time in the evening we meandered over to our dinning facility the DEFAC for a meal. This time when we showed our ID passes the curiosity and scrutiny had increased to the point that there were lots of guard studying them intently and deciding that they were not acceptable and we would not be allowed in to the canteen. One of our media minders a Captain in the army had a conversation with the security supervisor on the radio. We were then given the go ahead to eat.


My colleagues were getting a little bit twitchy and keen to do some work but were still thwarted as their gear had not arrived.


It did eventualy get to them quite late in the night.



Sunday, 26 April 2009

Basra Here We Come. Again!





Saturday 25th April 


The rain battering against the window and the loud roar of a departing aircraft roused me from my pleasant slumber. I  showered in the shower room along the corridor before venturing down for breakfast. In these days of healthy eating the only fruit I could find were a couple of thin slices of melon wrapped in cellophane and some very bitter little oranges. There was plenty of fried eggs and bacon etc’. I didn’t fancy any of that. I thought that toast would be a good idea. The choice at the toasting machine was between medium or thick sliced bright white bread. 


I had to be out of the room by 9 am. The flight was not due to leave until 1:30 pm. There was a lot of hanging around to be done. The time warp that surrounds the hotel seems to extend to technology.  A good mobile phone signal was about as frequent as a pleasurable trip to the dentist. I was in time and communication limbo. Richard tried to call a few times when he was on his way to the base but all I was able to hear before the call dropped out was a vague hello and various electronic crackles and hisses.


A tanoy announcement informed me that there was a bus outside waiting to take the Basra bound passengers to the terminal. It was a big bus. There were only three of us on it, my room mate John and a lady soldier who said that she was a lawyer.


At the terminal Richard was waiting along with a number of my colleagues from ITN, Sky, The BBC and some newspapers. The TV crews were as usual laden down with many trolleys of kit. I was travelling very light by comparison. 


Last night I had been designated to be on the second flight out of Kuwait to Basra, known as Blue Chalk. All the other media were to be on the first flight, Red Chalk. When Richard checked in he was given the same designation. This would mean that the pair of us would be hanging around on the ground in Kuwait for 4 hours or so after the rest had gone. This was because of the change in flight, because we had our flight changed at the last minute the Red Chalk flight had already been filled. 


We had to wait in the departure lounge after going through the same security screening that you go through at any airport prior to boarding. The flight was delayed by well over and hour. We amused ourselves by amongst other things playing a table football game. Richard and I were the broadcast representatives against the print media. Sadly we were well cuffed. 




Richard not doing it for the broadcasters.


When at last we were able to board the 767 it was a strange sight. A load of desert camouflaged soldiers climbing up the steps to a charter aircraft that had probably just disgorged happy holiday makers in Tenerife. I think the cabin crew found it amusing to be dishing out diluting orange juice to slightly glum soldiers off to work instead of Bacardi and Coke to excited folk off on their holidays.


When we landed at the airport in Kuwait there was nothing unusual to look at until we got a fleeting sight long convoy of big black American station wagons waiting at the steps of a big grey aircraft. It was like a scene form a hollywood blockbuster. Then we were reminded we were about to enter what is still designated a War Zone.  


The good news for Richard and I was that the coloured chalk was all mixed up and we would all be on the same C 130 from Kuwait to Basra. The guys like me with big cameras were boarded last. We sat right at the end of the dark cavernous aircraft. The Load Masters then started to get the pallet with all the cargo loaded on to the ramp beside us. There was a huge pile of boxes, bags and rucksacks under a thick webbing net. I was not surprised that was unable to see any of my kit, even my bright orange box. However the guys from ITN, Sky and the BBC thought that they should have been able to see at least one of there many many boxes. 




The kit, (or not) is heaved aboard the Herc'.


We got ready for the shortish but noisy flight to Basra. Caroline the BBC Defence Correspondent an old hand on these trips was quick to settle down complete with eye mask and pillow. 




The seasoned traveller!


To lessen the chance of being attacked the aircraft only fly at night and make a variety of interesting and exciting approaches coming into land. All this done in complete darkness. We all sat in our canvas seats wearing body armour and helmets as the pilot took us on a little roller coaster ride ending with a very tight turn just before a perfect landing.


In the heat of the Iraqi night we crammed aboard a little bus to take us to the big echoing hanger that is the arrival and departure lounge. The pallet was brought to us and the bits and pieces off loaded. Faces of the chaps told the tale. My orange baby and other two bags were there as was Richard’s but none of the other guys’ stuff was there.


There was a lot of discussion about where the kit was and when it might arrive. There were several unhappy guys and girls because not only was it equipment that was not there. Their personal kit had not turned up either. There was going to be a few smelly unshaved folk for a day or so. Not to mention the missing sleeping bags.


What little kit there was got tossed on to a flatbed truck. We squeezed back on to a bus take us to our accommodation.


Inside a large canvas covered building there were lots of concrete block square enclosures with half a metal roof which was covered with sand bags. It was the perfect “gang hut”. When I was a kid in the days when it was possible to play on building sites I have vivid memories of building such little structures.  My mates and I would do many illicit things inside like some would have a go at smoking, someone would somehow get hold of a few pages of Playboy and we would giggle at the bare lady bits. Then of course the workmen would turn up the nest day very pissed of with us and use our private space for building proper houses.




Home Sweet Temporary Home.


I was dog tired and quickly got under my protective roof and fell asleep in my sleeping bags. I have to say in a selfish way I was not thinking too much about my sleeping bagless colleagues who were trying to get some kip under some fleecy blankets that had been rummaged up by the army.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

No Trams please I'm off to Basra.

Friday 24th April 


My nice new bright orange flight case arrived allowing me to get the camera kit packed. 


I had sent one of my radio microphones back to be repaired. It had become a bit of a saga because it had gone back twice because when I had received it from repair it still had the same fault. I was quite excited at having my own bit of kit with me again. Not too excited, I am not that much of a geek, I hope.


I plugged it in. All the little lights lit up. I could hear some noise coming through the speaker. It was working. I put my headphones on just to check that the sound quality was ok. I picked the microphone up. I though I heard a little “tink” as I moved the microphone. So, I gave it a little light shake. Sure enough there was something rattling around inside. Whenever I moved the mic’ there was a little, but very audible "ting". I tried to have a look inside to see what it was but I was only able to open one end because I did not have the correct tool to get the other end open. Of course that was the wrong end. There was nothing visible. It would have to go back to repair again. I did not have time to do it then. it will have to wait until I get back from Basra.


I did need to get one or two things from Edinburgh city centre. The main being ear defenders to wear on that horrible vibrating noisy flight in a C130 Hercules from either Kuwait or Qatar to Basra. I also needed a can of air for getting that fine, almost talc dust off the camera lens and out of the workings of the camera and recorder. 


If it wasn’t for the disruption caused by the work to prepare for the tram line in Edinburgh it would have been easy. However, getting in and out of the city is just a nightmare and getting parked worse. There must be so many people driving around George Street and the rest of the central area with steam coming out of their ears  as they try in vain to park that Starbucks should tap into them and reduce their bill for frothing up cappuccinos. I did get the things but my indifference to the tram is rapidly turning into hatred. Especially as the one line that is costing a huge amount of cash and causing such stress for just about all the residents and visitors to Edinburgh will be of no use to me.


Anyway I got my flight to Heathrow. It was only delayed by half an hour or so. I got all my bags off at the belt in terminal 5. They were also only delayed by almost half an hour. I had been so hopeful that after the move from terminal 1 the days of waiting for ages on the bags had gone. Clearly not!


At least Godfrey the driver of my shiny black Merc was waiting to drive me to RAF Brize Norton near Oxford. As we approached a junction towards the end of the journey I saw a sign for the air base. It was pointing to the left. At the some instant I registered the sign the sat’ nav’ blurted out, “Turn right at the junction”.

Godfrey followed the vocal instruction but like me had seen the sign. We drove on for a little while until we arrive at a gate. It was one of the gates to the base just not the Main Gate which was the one we wanted. I asked the best way back to the main gate. We retraced our journey back to the signed junction and went in the direction it said.


I was greeted pleasantly by the security guy in the reception at the Main Gate. That was me then sucked into the military system. i was issued with a pass for the base and told to wait for transport to the terminal. I had no sooner wandered round with my gear when a white minibus appeared. It was by now around 9 pm. I was whisked to a very quiet passenger terminal. I don’t think I have ever been checked in for any flight either civil or military as quickly or efficiently. With my colourful RAF boarding card in my hand I was taken to my luxury (not really) accommodation at the base hotel, Gateway House. There a rather brusque woman took my boarding card, exchanging it for a key to a very basic little twin room. She also told me if I wanted a cooked breakfast I would need to be up before 8 am and the room had to be vacated by 9 am and a bus would be there at around 11:30 to take me back to the terminal.


Gateway House must be in one of those time anomalies that you hear about on Star Trek or Red Dwarf. The bus must have driven through some kind of worm hole that ends in the seventies or perhaps a little earlier. The place has a strange aura about it. I was keen not to spend too much time in my cell. As yet I did not have a cellmate. So I got on my walking legs and went out to find a place to eat. I found an acceptable little Indian restaurant that was still open at after 10pm. I had a quick curry and naan before heading back to the “hotel”.

I went into the room to see some civilian kit on the opposite bed to the one I had dumped my kit on. I was mentally working a memo to the Production Manager to say that I would like this particular hotel taken off the list of desirable places to stay when a head popped around the door and said hello in a strong west of Scotland accent. John was on his way back to Basra for the umpteenth time in five years. We exchanged pleasantries and talked about Basra. John told me that not having been there for about a year I would see quite a difference. There have been lots of changes with the Americans now in charge. The last time and on all the other visits save the first one when I was on army ration packs the food had been really great. There was a good choice and always a very good curry. Now according to John the emphasis has move away from curry and hot pots to burger and hot dogs. 


As we both lay in silence doing our own thing, John reading a magazine and me typing on my computer the nights curry started doing it’s stuff. I hope that my rumblings, gurglings and other spice induced noises don’t keep either of us awake.